Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Death by the Glass is the second of Nadia Gordon's Sonny McCoskey mysteries. Sonny is the chef owner of a fancy lunch restaurant in Napa Valley, and an avid amateur sleuth with a grab bag of colorful friends.
Sharpshooter, the first book in what hopefully will be a longer series, involves grape growers and wine makers. This one involves Napa Valley restaurateurs. Both are like a cross between Sex and the City and Nancy Drew, with a big dollop of Kitchen Confidential mixed in. They are a little thin on plot, but thoroughly enjoyable, and the offbeat setting makes them definitely worth reading.
Monday, June 29, 2009
Sunday, June 28, 2009
The Costa Book Awards seek to recognize "some of the most enjoyable books of the year by writers based in the UK and Ireland." The awards were formerly known as the the Whitbread Literary Awards from their start in 1971 until 1985 when the name changed to the Whitbread Book Awards. Costa Coffee took over over in 2006, changing the name, but not the purpose, of the awards.
Costa Awards are given in five categories: First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry, and Children's Book. The Book of the Year Award debuted in 1985 and is chosen from any of the five categories.
I am not good about poetry and I do not care for sci-fi, so I do know know if I will ever get through all the books on this list. On the other hand, if they really won because they were "most enjoyable," then maybe reading these prize winners would be the easiest way for me to expand my reading horizons.
If anyone else is working through the books on this list, please leave a link in a comment and I will add it to this post.
The books I have read are in red. Those on my TBR shelf are in blue.
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (2015)
How to be Both by Ali Smith (2014)
The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer (2013)
Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (2012)
Pure by Andrew Miller (2011)
Of Mutability by Jo Shapcott (2010)
A Scattering by Christopher Reid (2009)
The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry (2008) (reviewed here)
Day by A.L. Kennedy (2007)
The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney (2006) (reviewed here)
Matisse the Master by Hilary Spurling (2005)
Small Island by Andrea Levy (2004) (reviewed here)
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (2003)
Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self by Claire Tomalin (2002)
The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman (2001)
English Passengers by Matthew Kneale (2000)
Beowulf by Seamus Heaney (1999)
Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes (1998)
Tales from Ovid by Ted Hughes (1997)
The Spirit Level by Seamus Heaney (1996)
Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson (1995) (reviewed here)
Felicia's Journey by William Trevor (1994)
Theory of War by Joan Brady (1993)
Swing Hammer Swing! by Jeff Torrington (1992)
A Life of Picasso by John Richardson (1991)
Hopeful Monsters by Nicholas Mosley (1990)
Coleridge: Early Visions by Richard Holmes (1989)
The Comforts of Madness by Paul Sayer (1988)
Under the Eye of the Clock by Christopher Nolan (1987)
An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro (1986)
Elegies by Douglas Dunn (1985)
Last updated on August 7, 2016.
(Please leave a comment with links to your progress reports or reviews of these books and I will add them here.)
J.G.'s review of Birthday Letters on Hotch Pot Cafe
Sandra's comprehensive post on Fresh Ink Books
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Richard Wright is famous for his novel, Native Son, which is a classic of American realism, made it to the Modern Library’s list of Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century, and was the first Book of the Month Club title by an African-American author. His autobiography – at least part of it – is an acclaimed account of life in the Jim Crow South.
Only the first part of Richard Wright’s autobiography, Black Boy, was published contemporaneously with his finishing it in 1945. The second part, American Hunger, was not published until 1977.
Understandably. The Black Boy section of his autobiography tells the story of Wright's childhood in the Deep South in the early part of the 1900s. Born on a plantation, abandoned by his father, and raised by a passel of relatives, his was as racist, poverty-stricken, and generally grim a childhood as could be imagined. But American Hunger, the second part of his autobiography is all about Wright’s life as a Communist. Not a sympathetic, leftist intellectual of the 1930s, but a full-fledged, card-carrying Party member and true believer. No wonder he could not get this part of his story published in the 1950s. It would have been scandalous.
Now, after the horrors of Stalin are known and the Soviet Union has disappeared, his story is historically notable, but borderline ludicrous. What is worse is that Wright does not delve into the ideas that made him a Communist, which might have been interesting. He provides only one glowing summary of his fervent belief that Communism was the only solution for mankind, that the world would be in awe of the success of this system based on self-sacrifice, and that Europe would be unable to stand up to the military might of the Soviet Union. He offered this as an introduction to his description of the “glory” of the Soviet-style show trial of one of his Comrades. The rest focuses on the in-fighting among Party members.
Wright's whole point seems to prove that he was the better Communist than the hacks running the Party. He recounts the maneuverings among factions that led to his election as the Party Secretary of his division, detailed conversations with Party sub-officials questioning his loyalty, and his ultimate break with the Party – not over ideology, he insists, but tactics. All this is as tedious as listening to the office receptionist relate the details of her long-standing feud with the HR department.
The Black Boy section of Wright’s autobiography is a must-read. The American Hunger section belongs, like the bankrupt ideology that inspired it, in the dustbin of literary history.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Now that summer is here (in the northern hemisphere, anyway), what is the most “Summery” book you can think of? The one that captures the essence of summer for you? (I’m not asking for you to list your ideal “beach reading,” you understand, but the book that you can read at any time of year but that evokes “summer.”)This is harder than it seems. There are several books that make me think of hot weather, such as Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry or the whole Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell, but those are books set in hot climates, not books related to summer in particular. There are also a few books that remind me of summer because I happened to read them in the summer, like Jim Harrison's pre-The Road Home novels, which I tore through in the summer of 1994. But I guess if I had to pick one novel that captures the idea of summer, I would go with Huckleberry Finn. The adventures, the river, the kid out of school -- it all feels like summer. In fact, this one is going back on my TBR shelf to re-read this summer.
Nick Hornby is a favorite author of mine because I enjoyed High Fidelity so much.
I did not realize he had so many non-fiction books in addition to his novels. Fever Pitch is a memoir about being an avid football fan. Songbook is a collection of essays inspired by certain pop songs. The last three on the list intrigue me the most because they are collections of Hornby's book reviews from The Believer magazine.
Those I have read are in red; those on my TBR shelf are in blue.
(1995) High Fidelity (reviewed here)
(1998) About a Boy
(2001) How to Be Good
(2005) A Long Way Down
(2009) Juliet, Naked (reviewed here)
(1992) Fever Pitch
(2003) Songbook (called 31 Songs in England)
(2004) The Polysyllabic Spree (reviewed here)
(2006) Housekeeping vs. the Dirt
(2008) Shakespeare Wrote for Money
Last updated on March 19, 2012.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Nick Hornby's High Fidelity is the guy version of Bridget Jones’s Diary, only even funnier.
Rob, the slacker hero, mopes around his used record store, obsessing on the girlfriend who just dumped him and on all his prior failed relationships. Fanatically opinionated, phobic about commitment, and neurotic to the core, Rob is the Everyman of the post-sexual revolution era. There is a little something of Rob in all bad boyfriends and good husbands, which is what makes him so appealing.
In keeping with the theme of the book, my Top Five Favorite Lines from High Fidelity, in the order of appearance:
Discussing his first real girlfriend: “Sometimes I got so bored of trying to touch her breasts that I would try to touch between her legs, a gesture that had a sort of self-parodying wit about it: it was like trying to borrow a fiver, getting turned down, and asking to borrow fifty quid instead.”
Discussing teenage romance in general: “Attack and defense, invasion and repulsion . . . it was as if breasts were little pieces of property that had been unlawfully annexed by the opposite sex – they were rightfully ours and we wanted them back.”
“They’re as close to being mad as makes no difference.”
Discussing obscure bands: “[S]omeone with a cult following which could arrive together in the same car.”
“[M]y friends don’t seem to be friends at all but people whose phone numbers I haven’t lost.”
Why, why, why did I wait so long to read this book? If I had read it when it came out in 1995, I could have already re-read it a couple of times. Now I have to wait at least a few years to enjoy it fresh and I don’t want to wait.
(If you would like your review listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.)
Monday, June 22, 2009
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Friday, June 19, 2009
M. F. K. Fisher -- born Mary Frances Kennedy -- created a literary genre by writing about "the art of eating" and her life with food. I love, love, love her books.
Some of them are hard to find, so I may never get to finish this list, but I hope so. Those I have read are in red. Those currently on my TBR shelf are in blue.
Serve it Forth (1937)
Consider the Oyster (1941)
How to Cook a Wolf (1942)
The Gastronomical Me (1943)
Here Let Us Feast, A Book of Banquets (1946)
Not Now But NOW (1947) (a novel)
An Alphabet for Gourmets (1949)
The Physiology of Taste [translator] (1949)
A Cordial Water: A Garland of Odd & Old Receipts to Assuage the Ills of Man or Beast (1961)
The Story of Wine in California (1962)
Map of Another Town: A Memoir of Provence (1964)
Two Kitchens in Provence (1966) (an almost impossible to find novel)
The Cooking of Provincial France (1969)
With Bold Knife and Fork (1969)
Among Friends (1971)
A Considerable Town (1978)
Not a Station but a Place (1979)
As They Were (1982)
Sister Age (1983)
Spirits of the Valley (1985) (another extremely rare volume)
Dubious Honors (1988)
The Boss Dog: A Story of Provence (1990) (a novel)
Long Ago in France: The Years in Dijon (1991)
To Begin Again: Stories and Memoirs 1908 - 1929 (1992)
Stay Me, Oh Comfort Me: Journals and Stories 1933-1941 (1993)
Last House: Reflections, Dreams and Observations 1943-1991 (1995)
A Life in Letters(1997)
From the Journals of M.F.K. Fisher (1999)
Thursday, June 18, 2009
In his first novel, A Yellow Raft in Blue Water, Michael Dorris tells the entwined stories of three generations of American Indian women. The first section is told by 15 year old Rayona, the second by Rayona’s mother Christine, and the third by Christine’s mother Ida.
The theme is the braiding together of the lives of these three headstrong women and their extended families. Parts of each story show up in the others, with the same scenes told from a different perspective at the same time new material is brought in by each narrator. While not a unique approach, Dorris handles it well.
The problem is that the characters are not likable. Rayona is a good person and trying hard, but she is so well-armored that she is not approachable. Given her upbringing, her hard shell in understandable, but it is only at the end of her story, when she breaks out and we see her potential, does she become interesting. Christine is too angry and self-destructive to like, although as she bounces from one bad decision to another, it is possible to feel sorry for her. Ida is the toughest nut of all and it is heartbreaking to watch her intentional choices set the wheels in motion.
Yellow Raft brings to life the Native American concept of “historical trauma” – that “history has caused trauma and unresolved intergenerational grief and how this trauma and grief is passed from one generation to the next.” But that is a difficult concept to contemplate and Dorris does not make it easy.
Please leave a link to your review in a comment and I will list it here.
This was my "yellow" book choice for the Colorful Reading Challenge.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
First awarded in 1976, the National Book Critics Circle Award is an annual award given by the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) to promote the finest books and reviews published in English.
The main awards fall into six categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Memoir/Autobiography, Biography, and Criticism. Awards are not given to titles that have been previously published in English, such as re-issues and paperback editions.
This is the list of fiction winners. Those I have read are in red. Those currently on my TBR shelf are in blue.
2010 A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
2009 Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (reviewed here)
2008 2666 by Robert Bolano
2007 The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
2006 The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
2005 The March by E.L. Doctorow
2004 Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (reviewed here)
2003 The Known World by Edward P. Jones
2002 Atonement by Ian McEwan
2001 Austerlitz by Winfried Georg Sebald
2000 Being Dead by Jim Crace
1999 Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem
1998 The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro
1997 The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald
1996 Women in Their Beds by Gina Berriault
1995 Mrs. Ted Bliss by Stanley Elkin
1994 The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
1993 A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
1992 All the Pretty Horses by Cormac Mccarthy (reviewed here)
1991 A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
1990 Rabbit at Rest by John Updike
1989 Billy Bathgate by E. L. Doctorow
1988 The Middleman and Other Stories by Bharati Mukherjee
1987 The Counterlife by Philip Roth
1986 Kate Vaiden by Reynolds Price
1985 The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler
1984 Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich
1983 Ironweed by William Kennedy
1982 George Mills by Stanley Elkin
1981 Rabbit is Rich by John Updike
1980 The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard
1979 The Year of the French by Thomas Flanagan
1978 The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever (reviewed here)
1977 Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
1976 October Light by John C Gardner
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Monday, June 15, 2009
Sunday, June 14, 2009
This one is a double dipper for me. There are two types of books that I love to collect and read that are off the beaten track compared to my usual literary fiction. The first type is vintage cocktail books. I also like modern books about vintage cocktails, but my favorites are the old books: The Mixer's Manual by Patrick Gavin Duffy (this has a great cover, although it is hard to see in this picture) Trader Vic's Bartender Guide (1948 edition) (mine is missing its cover, so not interesting to look at) Esquire's Handbook for Hosts (1949 edition) Esquire Party Book (1965 edition) These books inspire me. The second type of niche book I enjoy is needlepoint books -- the fancy kind with glossy pictures. I have only made one pillow out of these books in 20 years, but I love looking at them and have a fantasy that I will make all the projects I bookmark. At one pillow every 20 years, I'll have to live to be 680 to finish them all. My favorites are: Beth Russell's Traditional Needlepoint Beth Russell's William Morris Needlepoint And for sheer entertainment value: Rosey Grier's Needlepoint for Men
There are certain types of books that I more or less assume all readers read. (Novels, for example.) But then there are books that only YOU read. Instructional manuals for fly-fishing. How-to books for spinning yarn. How to cook the perfect souffle. Rebuilding car engines in three easy steps. Dog training for dummies. Rewiring your house without electrocuting yourself. Tips on how to build a NASCAR course in your backyard. Stuff like that. What niche books do YOU read?
Saturday, June 13, 2009
It is disquieting to think that the man who wrote James and the Giant Peach could also come up with My Uncle Oswald. True, Roald Dahl’s short stories are intended for adults and range from the diabolically clever to the downright salacious to the disturbingly macabre. But Uncle Oswald falls on the far end of the salacious range, bordering on raunchy.
In this novella, Oswald – who was first introduced to Dahl fans in “The Visitor,” one of the stories in Switch Bitch – tells the tale of how he made his fortune. This adventure involved selling “potency pills” to diplomats and starting a sperm bank with contributions from unwitting, very prominent, donors. Both ventures turn on the remarkable efficacy of the Sudanese blister beetle.
The book is funny. Dahl is a master at drawing the reader into unbelievable scenarios involving unlikable characters. Here, Oswald and his vixen sidekick Yasmin tour Europe seducing royalty, artists, authors, and geniuses – delivering their ill-gotten gains to the Semen’s Home and making readers giggle at their antics. It is easy to finish, but leaves a tinge of embarrassment. As Oswald himself points out:
The act of copulation is like that of picking the nose, It’s all right to be doing it yourself but it is a singularly unattractive spectacle for the onlooker.Exactly!
PS: Dahl was married to American movie star Patricia Neal for 30 years. Will the wonders of Wikipedia never cease?
Please leave a link in a comment and I will add your review here.
Friday, June 12, 2009
As principal of Cheyenne High School, Geihs implemented single-sex instruction for ninth- and 10th-graders, eliminated remedial classes, expanded honors and Advanced Placement courses, and implemented the Academic Decathlon and a required reading program for students below grade reading level.
Jeff's ideas are getting results. We are all very proud of his accomplishments and the recognition he deserves. Way to go, Cuz!
Finally, I am off to the Rose City Used Books Fair this afternoon. I can't wait!
Thursday, June 11, 2009
The Wind in the Willows is as daffy and charming as it must have seemed when it was first published in 1908. Kenneth Grahame’s classic children’s novel follows the anthropomorphic adventures of several woodland creatures, primarily Mole, Rat, Badger, and Toad. They enjoy many pastimes, including “messing about in boats,” Christmas caroling, and driving motor cars. This last becomes Mr. Toad’s passion, landing him in all sorts of trouble and, eventually, a dungeon. The animals have many adventures along the river and in the Wild Wood, but they all love home best, where they like to cozy up in front of a fireplace and enjoy simple meals with friends.
What makes the book so funny is how the animals live alongside people, doing people things, but without exciting comment. And they do it all regardless of the comparative size of things. Mole and Rat harness a horse to a gypsy caravan, field mice slice a ham and fry it for breakfast, Toad drives people cars and wears a washerwoman’s clothes to escape from prison.
It is easy to see why this book remains popular. Among other claims to fame, Teddy Roosevelt said he read it several times, P.G. Wodehouse was clearly influenced by the lighthearted humor (one of his novels, Joy in the Morning, shares the same title as the carol sung by the field mice), and it shows up as one of Radcliffe's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century.
If you would like your review listed here, please leave a link in a comment and I will add it.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Advise and Consent, Allen Drury’s 1959 Pulitzer winner, thoroughly covers the machinations of the Senate confirmation process as that august body deliberates the nomination of a controversial figure for the post of Secretary of State.
Although long and sometimes exhausting, Drury’s landmark novel is a rewarding book for the patient reader. At over 600 dense pages, this is not a quick read. The first 100 pages seem especially slow as the characters are introduced and the stage set. This behind-the-scenes look at the Senate may have been more interesting before 50 years of televised politics in general and C-SPAN in particular leached any tantalizing mystery out of Senate subcommittee hearings. Once the story builds up steam, however, it powers right along.
The candidate under consideration, peacenik Bob Leffingwell, has his avid supporters, including the somewhat Machiavellian President who nominated him. But he faces stiff opposition from those who think he will be unable to protect America on the brink of a nuclearized Cold War with an increasingly belligerent Soviet Union determined to send men to the moon to claim it as Soviet territory. While the details of the controversy seem anachronistic now, the underlying issue of diplomacy versus military might is as pertinent today as it was 50 years ago.
What is most interesting is that Drury keeps party politics out of it. He does not name either party, and the battle over Leffingwell’s nomination is all within the President’s own liberal party that holds the majority in the Senate. The minority, presumably conservative, party is relegated to the sidelines.
In the end, Leffingwell’s confirmation comes down to character issues as much as his political opinions. The heart of Drury’s story is that, when an unsavory part of Leffingwell’s past arises, instead of having the Senate’s decision turn on the underlying facts, the controversy centers on how Leffingwell and his supporters, including the President, deal with the facts, and what their conduct reveals about their essential worthiness as national leaders. Again, the details of the scandals involved seem quaint now, but the principal debate over what weight to give to politicians’ personal lives still rages.
Stylistically, Drury follows formal conventions, with third-party narration, traditional dialog format, discretion in all things sexual, and one particularly distracting gimmick in that many characters share the same first names. For instance, the nominee and the Senate Majority leader are both names Robert and both go by Bob. Context usually makes clear which one is under discussion, but it seems odd that no one ever mentions that they have the same name. There are also two Hals, two Toms, and two Johns (but no Mikes, Marks, or Daves). Maybe it is more like real life to duplicate names, but some literary customs are there for a reason.
The writing is a little stuffy, but the tone suits the subject matter and helps raise it above a run-of-the-mill political thriller. A sample passage demonstrates Drury’s intricate style as well as his purpose of thoroughly presenting the Congressional system:
The system had its problems, and it wasn’t exactly perfect, and there was at times much to be desired, and yet – on balance, admitting all its bad points and assessing all the good, there was a vigor and a vitality and a strength that nothing, he suspected, could ever quite overcome, however evil and crafty it might be. There was in this system the enormous vitality of free men, running their own government in their own way. If they were weak at times, it was because they had the freedom to be weak; if they were strong, upon occasion, it was because they had the freedom to be strong; if they were indomitable, when the chips were down, it was because freedom made them so.Although it takes some endurance to get through such a thicket of prose, the effort is worthwhile, which is why Advise and Consent remains the most popular, perceptive study of Congressional American politics on the shelves.
This book was my Pulitzer choice for the Sunshine Smackdown -- Battle of the Prizes Challenge.
If you would like your review listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.